Nearly 20,000 foreign children are at risk of “illiteracy” in Japan!

  • Japan is the country known for their top-ranking education in Asia, also instilling the good manners in Japanese people that the world admires. In recent years, the number of foreigners living and working in Japan has increased, leading to a boom of services aimed at foreigners. These include the Japanese language schools that have been springing up like mushrooms after rain, in order to support foreigners to overcome the language barrier in Japan, make living easier, as well as find stable jobs.

    Yet, at the same time, many foreign children living in Japan face the risk of being “illiterate”. How is that possible? Read on to find out.

    Preschools and kindergartens are often in full capacity

    There are kindergartens and preschools for children in Japan, however, the operation, management level and time of child care are different comparing to other countries. You can find out more from the table below.

    Preschools (保育 園, hoikuen) keep children from 0 to 3 years of age, provide meals and milk for the children, can take care of them the full workday (8 hours) and are 100% public schools. Competition to enroll in hoikuen is very high, so many children under the age of 3 often end up staying at home waiting for kindergarten.

    However, kindergartens (幼稚園, yochien) only keep children up to 4 hours a day, so it is very inconvenient for parents to work full-time. There are also many private schools, so the tuition fee is also varied. However, families still have to hurry up in the “race” to reserve a spot in the kindergarten for their children. How about changing schools? That procedure is much more complicated!

    Hoikuen help from r/japanlife

    If you visit foreign parent forums in Japan, you will see how serious the shortage of vacancies in kindergartens and preschools is. Japan has tried to improve the situation by allowing only children with both parents who work to get admission. But the process of finding schools, registration, entrance exams etc. is quite tiring, especially for parents with little Japanese language ability.

    Some families even have to relocate to a different ward or district where the school is available, so that children can go to school, while parents can work safely. There are also places where the school is a bit too demanding for parents, asking them to submit a weekly working schedule which has been certified by their company, so that the school does not take care of children on the days-off of their parents.

    Foreign children coming to Japan are “lost” in choosing schools

    Children under the school age who go to Japan with their parents will often be more adaptable, and even better, the babies born in Japan will not have to worry about language or qualification. However, for children who are of elementary school age, or secondary school going to Japan will have many difficulties in keeping up with schooling.

    According to a recent survey (and also organized for the first time) by the Ministry of Education of Japan, nearly 20,000 foreign children are in “not attending school” status. The increasing number of foreigners across Japan means these numbers will be multiplied several times in the future.

    Specifically, 124,049 children aged 6 to 14 years old were registered to stay in Japan in May of this year. However, only 1,000 of these did register for schools and could not enroll, because the local government is confused whether to place them in elementary or secondary school. In addition, 18,654 children in the local government could not confirm whether they were “attending school” by phone calls or home visit, so potentially these children are studying in groups, studying at home or not attending school at all!


    With the above survey results, the Japanese government realizes the urgency of measures to support bringing foreign children to schools, as the circumstance of the increasing number of foreigners in Japan today. Hopefully soon there will be supportive policies from the authorities at all levels so that the children will be able to go to school and parents no longer struggle to find a school for their children.